September 19, 2017

Lesson #7: Talent — What Feels Effortless to You?

It’s been said that everyone is good at something. Whether or not that something can support us is another story all together.

You hear a lot about talent being inborn. That it’s just the luck of the cards that you are good at anything at all. I tend to disagree.

Sure, there are people who have genetic advantages. Those freaks of nature will clearly have an advantage. For the rest of us, talent boils down to having the passion, discipline and joy to hone our skills into talents.

Passion and Talent

We talked about passion in a previous lesson and how finding your true passion is rewarding and self-motivating. When it comes to talent, passion is a key ingredient.

I have seen people with talents that lacked passion. For them, the task or skill seems mechanical. Kinda like a robot programmed to weld the car door— sure it’s got talent but where is the passion?

Talent that is not backed up with passion will soon be squandered

In order for your talents to truly shine, you need to link them to passion. So, it’s only natural to start looking for your talents where your passions lie.

Discipline and Talent

Having passion for a task is one thing — having the discipline to practice it is another. The discipline to perform the skill has to be there or your talents will never be truly realized.

Let’s say you have a talent for writing. You love to read and do so almost daily. As for the writing, not so much. You know you have the talent, it’s just hard work to practice. You are such a perfectionist that you start, then erase, then start again. You tend to get writers block all the time. You have a ton to write — just no way to express it. This is talent squandered. No ones perfect. That’s why athletes practice for the big game. They make tons and tons of mistakes to hone their talent. That discipline is why they are so talented.

Joy and Talent

Joy plays a role in understanding our talents simply because what we enjoy, we tend to do. Joy is a necessary but not sufficient condition for talent. Just because we enjoy something does not mean we have the skills to make it a talent.

By enjoying a skill or task, it makes us want to practice it more. That inner drive helps make getting better that much easier.

Use It or Lose It

You can have all the natural talent in the world but without practice it will turn into nothing. Practice hones your talent to a knifes edge. It fires all those neurons that build myelin, a critical component in building and retaining memory.

By practicing, we get better. We retain more information. We learn the muscle movements and develop the muscle memory that makes our reactions automatic.

If we don’t practice, we start to loose our skills. All of us experience this when coming back from vacation. Everything seems foreign, more difficult and overwhelming. We need to “get back up to speed.” That’s what out of practice feels like.

Talent Indicators

Talents and passions can go hand in hand. One without the other just seems out of place. You can have a natural talent and not be passionate about it but that will go nowhere.

We all know what we want to be good at but it takes digging a little deeper to understand our natural talents. Let’s take a look at some ways to discover your natural talents.

  • Enjoyment: What we enjoy doing is the first step in finding our natural talents. Don’t mistake enjoyment for passion since you could enjoy doing whatever it is but not has the passion for it.

  • Effortless Performance: If performing the task feels effortless and natural then that’s a good indicator that it’s a natural talent. Effortless performance indicates an inherent understanding of the task or function even though you may have never performed it before.

  • Rapid Learning: What we learn quickly is often a natural talent. Rapid leaning indicates that we are somehow pre-wired to perform the task. Anything you pick up easily and can improve quickly is a good candidate for a natural talent.

  • Yearning For More: Wanting to perform the task over and over again means either you enjoy it or are obsessed by it. This yearning means the skill or task has captivated your interest to a point where you can’t wait to start doing it again and again.

  • Others Take Notice: If you find others noticing that you are good at something, then that’s a good sign that your performance of the task or skill might be a natural talent. When others take notice, that usually means you stand out and are performing better than everyone else.

  • Fulfillment: Feeling joy is one thing but being fulfilled by performing the task is a whole other level. Fulfillment is what you feel after the task is done. It’s that sense that what you just did has a lasting influence. Fulfillment makes you want to pursue the skill or task more and more.

  • In The Zone: The zone is a place where you are so engrossed in the moment that all other things fade away. It’s that most special of places where you have obtained total focus on what you are doing. Being in the zone means total commitment and total immersion.

  • Drawn To Participate: Sometimes we are just drawn to certain things. Maybe it’s a book at the bookstore or a poster on the subway. Even if we have never participating in the activity, we seem to want to. This draw is a good sign that something in us wants to check out the activity.

  • Admire Others Talent: Admiration is another good way to find your natural talents. What we admire is usually what resonates deep within us.

Honing Your Talents

The talent indicators above will give you a good head start on what your talents are. To really see if these talents are real talents, you have to start performing the tasks and skills.

There is a bit of controversy about natural talent. Some research into natural talent has revealed that it really does not exist. Scores of studies have shown that innate gifts are not the reason top performers excel. The main driver of top performance is hard work and consistent practice.

This does not mean that you are not without some sort of natural talent. All it means is that in order to get great at something, you need to practice, practice and practice some more. The trick is to figure out what you want to practice — that’s where natural talent comes in.

Is it Natural or Conditioned?

Whether you agree or disagree that natural talent exists, one thing is clear — we are drawn to certain things. Call it nature or call it nurture, it does exist.

We need to hone those talents so we can get the maximum enjoyment out of life. We may not know why we are drawn to writing, leadership, painting, singing or sanitation, but we are. We will now take a look at some talent building methods that will take your “natural” talents to the next level.

  • Determine why you love it: Understanding the why will help you find better ways to strengthen your talents by seeing what similarities each one has.

  • Seek a coach: A good coach can help you reach that next level by correcting the subtle technique issues you might not even know you have.

  • Break it down into parts: Each component of your talent is important to practice. By knowing the pieces parts, you can strengthen those parts that are weaker than others.

  • Coach others: Coaching or mentoring makes you better. By coaching, you learn to adjust your approach and see what others struggle with. You also have to really understand the skill in order to explain it to someone else.

  • Learn from the greats: Watching someone excel at your talent is a wonderful way to learn and grow. You don’t have to mimic them — just understand why they are great.

  • Practice: Out of all these talent building methods, none is more important than practice. Deep Practice is even more important since it targets the most important part of practice — mastery of the components of the skill.

  • Cross Train: Cross training has a tremendous amount of benefit. For an athlete, it allows them to reduce injury by making them use different muscles while resting their primary ones (like running for a baseball player or swimming for a football player). Cross training also has cross over benefits in that it keeps practice interesting and pushes you in different ways.

Leadership Skills and Talents

In order to lead, even yourself, you have to have certain skills. These skills need to be developed to a point where they appear to be natural talents.

Recall that leadership is organizing a group of people (or yourself) toward a common cause or goal. The talented leader needs to practice and master the following talents:

  • Being organized: Skills at organizing serve a leader well. If you can’t organize, you are at a true disadvantage.

  • Clear communication: So much of a leaders job is communicating status or vision. Without clear verbal and written communication skills, the leader leaves too many open questions.

  • Empathy for others: First and foremost, a leader has to feel what his supporters feel. This has to be authentic — you can’t fake empathy. We will talk more about that in another lesson.

  • Seeing the potential in everyone: All of use have talents. A leader sees those talents and using them to benefit the group or project.

  • Tactical knowledge: A leader may not do the work, but they should know how to do the work. This gives you credibility and a bond with your supporter.

  • Strategic vision: A leader has to see the forest through the trees. It’s the leaders vision that inspires people to endure the hardships of the journey.

Take-a-way: Whether it’s nature or nurture, all of us have talents. Go find yours by experimenting.

Things to Ponder

  1. Write down your natural talents. These are the things either you or others say you are good at. Next to each talent, write down why you think you are good at it.

  2. Take a talent off the list above. Break it down into smaller parts. Take each part and figure out which piece you love the most.

  3. Attend a seminar or class about one of your talents. Write down what you learned and three points on how to get better.

  4. Write down how many of the leadership talents you possess. Out of the ones you don’t possess, make a plan to improve at least one of them by seeking out a coach or mentor that’s good at it.

  5. Recall a time where you did not practice you talent for a while. What did it feel like when you started up again? Write a paragraph or two about your experience. How long did it take to get back in the grove?

Exploring Further


This post is part of a series called Leading from Within, a FREE course on how to lead your most important supporter — you. If you landed here via other means (like Google, Twitter or a friend), you can learn more about the course and sign up here.